The astute observer will notice I’ve put flies at the top. This is no accident. Flies are important pollinators, but as Morgan Jackson recently pointed out, they are unjustifiably neglected in favor of the more popular bees.
I photographed this little longhorn beetle yesterday stuffing its face with pollen as it ran among the flowers making a mess of things. Of course, such sloppy eaters work to the plant’s advantage. When this beetle takes off for the next bush up the street it will be positively spilling over with the gametes needed to make the next generation of Spiraea.
photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D ISO 200, f/13, 1/250 sec exposure Diffuse overhead twin flash
The U.N. has released a brief report (pdf) on the global state of pollinators. As with most such reports, it only contains substantive information about one species, the western honey bee, as data do not exist for the vast majority of other pollinators.
For all the hoopla over CCD, the reality is that non-African Apis mellifera on the North American continent has been declining for decades, and that CCD, whatever it may be, is just the latest in a string of challenges. Data are sketchy for other pollinators, but there are reasons to believe the decline is more general.
If I may be permitted to speculate, I suspect the gradual decline reflects gradual changes in landscape use and commerce since the 1950s. The rise of large-scale agriculture and urban sprawl, together with a decrease in the small farms inclined to beekeeping, has decimated the diversified landscape that supported earlier populations. Concurrently, globalization brought new bee pests to our shores- look at the effect of Asian Varroa mites in the 1980s!- and has increased the traffic of pests around the continent.
If we wish to return the domestic honey bee to its historically large population sizes, we’d do well to focus on larger landscape management issues rather than zeroing in on particular diseases or afflictions. Otherwise, we risk not seeing the forest for the bees.
Pursuant to the discussion below, I took the 7d out to the front garden this evening to film the sweat bees at work:
As several of you pointed out, grasses are supposed to be wind-pollinated. But the bright colors of grama flowers surely can’t serve any wind-related function. I suspect the bees are giving the pollen an assist- not necessarily by carrying it among flowers but by helping launch the pollen on its way. The video shows pollen streaming into the air as bees land on the anthers.